Our championship game pits fourth seeded Connor Pelton up against the fifth seeded, two-headed monster in Mark Sandritter and Jeff Nusser (CougCenter). Below are the rosters, followed by commentary from the respective owner:
Head Coach – Slats Gill, Oregon State
Guard – Reggie Miller, UCLA
Guard – Isaiah Thomas, Washington
Guard – Chauncey Billups, Colorado
Guard – Baron Davis, UCLA
Forward – Kiki Vandeweghe, UCLA
Forward – Klay Thompson, Washington State
Forward – Richard Jefferson, Arizona
Forward – Jon Brockman, Washington
Center – Steve Johnson, Oregon State
Center – Robin Lopez, Stanford
Obviously, CougCenter’s team is loaded with talent. Behind my own, of course, it’s my favorite in the field. But you can’t tell me that Darren Collison and Eddie House would even compete with Reggie Miller or Chauncey Billups in a game of two-on-two, or that David Greenwood is better than fellow Bruin Kiki Vandeweghe. Let’s take a look at the stats, shall we: My group of guards (Miller, Billups, Isaiah Thomas, and Baron Davis) averaged a total of 16.4 PPG throughout their college careers. Team CougCenter’s? A cute average of 13.2. At the forward position, the numbers are a bit closer, but my 15.0 PPG still prevails.
My side boasts a Basketball Hall of Famer, a five-time NBA All-Star, and three, two-time All-Pac-10 First Teamers. Miller and Billups are some of the clutchest players of all time, meaning they’ll pull out a Championship for me in this tight battle.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.
Last week in this space, we mentioned that California, of all the teams in the conference, was the one team with a pretty good argument for consideration for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Sure, they had no significant wins on their schedule, but they were ranked 30th in the RPI, a strong enough number that could have earned them a bid. However, the Golden Bears were upset at home by Arizona on Thursday night, and when the RPI numbers came out on Monday, Cal had dropped to 48th (notably, the Wildcats jumped up from 85th to 62nd). This little factoid shows two things: first, and perhaps most important, the RPI rankings are fluid at this point in the season; a good win or a bad loss (and for that matter, good wins and bad losses from previous opponents on your schedule) can have a significant effect on your ranking, especially for teams on the ubiquitous bubble. Secondly, it shows just how slim the margin of error for Pac-12 teams is. With no significant wins to fall back on, any team in the conference that hopes to earn legitimate at-large consideration needs to string together some wins here down the stretch and slowly but surely bump those RPI numbers up.
If you’re looking at it from a conference-wide perspective, the best thing that can happen for the league is for a handful of teams to distance themselves from the middle of the Pac. If, for instance, Washington (current conference leader, RPI of 76), Arizona and California were to get on a roll going down the stretch and consistently off teams like say, Colorado, Oregon, and Stanford, it is still possible that the conference could have three different teams with fairly strong RPIs to help make their case for inclusion in the Big Dance. Of course, those strong RPIs will likely be just about the only significant chip in their corner when those arguments get made. One last note, before we put away all mentions of the RPI for a week, just as an example of how silly it is, Washington swept the Los Angeles schools this week, and their RPI actually dropped, from 72 to 76.
Cal's Loss To Arizona And Subsequent Drop In The RPI Is Nothing For Golden Bear Fans To Cheer About
What to Watch For
The two biggest clashes of the weekend come on Thursday night, as Colorado travels to Arizona and Washington goes to Oregon. Arizona caught fire on the road last week and now they get a chance to extend their two-game winning streak against the Rocky Mountain schools, with the Buffaloes getting the first crack. Colorado rides a two-game winning streak as well, but they have struggled on the road this year winning just one of their first four conference road games with the lone win coming against a depleted USC team. An hour later on Thursday night, we get one of the better rivalry games in the conference, as Washington heads to Oregon for a battle that will help determine who is atop the standings on Friday morning. The Huskies are riding a five-game winning streak and are currently a game up on the Ducks, but despite U-Dub’s 3-1 road record in conference play, it is easy to still be a little bit skeptical of their ability to go on the road and win games. If they can do that this week in what is likely their toughest remaining test on the schedule, you have to be much more inclined to be Husky believers.
Elsewhere around the conference, both California and Stanford will make the road trip to the Los Angeles schools, where each should be significant favorites against USC but slight underdogs to UCLA; Stanford faces the Bruins on Thursday, while Cal makes the trip to the Sports Arena Saturday afternoon.
Player of the Year Watch
Last week, we essentially narrowed the field here down to four players: Terrence Ross, Jorge Gutierrez, Jared Cunningham, and (reluctantly) Tony Wroten. The biggest concern we had about Cunningham’s candidacy was the fact that, despite his conference-leading 18.0 point per game average and other excellent numbers (of both the traditional and tempo-free variety), his team was still below the .500 mark in conference. That prompted Doug Tammaro, the Media Relations Director at Arizona State to send us the following list of Pac-12 Player of the Year award winners compared with his team’s Pac-10 finish and postseason invitation. In short, of the 19 winners in the last 18 years (in 1994-95, there were co-winners), only twice has the POTY winner come from a team that has not earned an NCAA invitation. And, interestingly enough, both of those times the player was a Sun Devil: Ike Diogu in 2004-05 and Eddie House in 1999-2000. Read the rest of this entry »
Over the course of the next month until the NBA Draft on June 23, RTC will be rolling out comprehensive profiles of the 35 collegians we feel have the best chance to hear their names called by David Stern in the first round that night. There won’t be any particular order to the list, but you can scroll back through all the finished profiles by clicking here.
Player Name: Jimmer Fredette
Height/Weight: 6’2/195 lbs.
NBA Position:Point Guard
Projected Draft Range: Mid-First Round
Overview: After spending much of his junior year as a relatively under-the-radar star that only true hoop junkies appreciated, Fredette burst onto the national stage with a series of scintillating performances that turned him into a cult hero where you could refer to him as just “Jimmer” and everybody would know who you were talking about (ok, maybe his unique name helped with that last part). Fredette’s skills were most evident in a home game against San Diego State where he lit up the Aztecs for 43 points and later in the Mountain West Tournament when he torched New Mexico for 52 points. For all of Fredette’s gifts as a scorer there are major concerns about every other area of his game. The most notable issue is his matador defense that could become a major liability at the next level if he is asked to defend an opposing point guard for any extended period. There are also concerns about his abilities to run a NBA offense against any level of pressure. Because of the stark contrast between certain NBA All-Star level skills (his shooting and scoring abilities) and his D-league skills (defense), Fredette remains one of the most intriguing prospects in the 2011 NBA Draft.
Can Jimmer make the transition to the NBA?
Will Translate to the NBA: Jimmer appears to fit a very specific role in the NBA in our eyes: a scorer who can come off the bench and score in bunches, or, at the very least, stretch opposing defenses to give his team an ability to attack the rim or feed the post. He will probably play as a point guard, but his primary function will be instant offense and he will probably have to rely on another player to act as the primary initiator of the offense to take some of the load off of him. He will probably struggle on defense unless his team can hide him with a zone defense (or something similar), limiting his minutes, but there are plenty of NBA players who are sub-par defenders that remain in the league and play meaningful minutes so it is easy to imagine Fredette staying in the league for a number of years.
Michael Hurley is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 Conference.
Pac-10 Final Regular Season Standings
1. Washington 14-4, 24-7
2. UCLA 13-5, 24-7
3. Arizona State 11-7, 22-8
4. California 11-7, 22-9
5. Arizona 9-9, 19-12
6. USC 9-9, 18-12
7. Washington State 8-10, 16-14
8. Oregon State 7-11, 13-16
9. Stanford 6-12, 17-12
10. Oregon 2-16, 8-22
Player of the Year: James Harden
The third sophomore in Pac-10 history to win player of the year. The others were Jason Kidd (1994) and Mike Bibby (1998). Harden is also the third ASU player to win it following Ike Diogu (2005) and Eddie House (2000).
Freshman of the Year: Isaiah Thomas
Thomas set the freshman scoring record for Washington with 477 points and is the fourth Husky to win the award.
Well it’s the series everybody has been waiting for (ok, not rtmsf). I’ll try to limit my bias in this preview although all of my friends are well aware of the extent of my taunting. Honestly, they’re just happy there isn’t a potential Triple Crown (and eternal bragging rights) at stake here. Anyways, on to what might be the most hyped NBA Finals since 1991 when Michael Jordan formally took the throne away from Magic Johnson (and Larry Bird).
By now, you may have heard that the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers have a little bit of basketball history. Boston comes in sporting an amazing 16-3 record in NBA Finals, but no appearances since 1987 andno titles since 1986 (following that title they selected a forward out of Maryland named Len Bias). Meanwhile, LA comes in with a 9-13 record, but had a 3-peat from 2000-2002 and appeared in the 2004 Finals. However, as Rick Pitino said during his ignominious stint in Boston:
Despite all the hype ESPN has given (wonder who has broadcast rights) to the history of this rivalry–think hammer versus nail (sorry, I can’t help myself)–none of the players that led the franchises to their numerous titles will be walking through that door except for some guy named Kobe Bryant. So instead of focusing on the glorious past of this match-up, I’ll focus on the present and this season.
Point Guard: Rajon Rondo vs. Derek Fischer. It seems like this match-up hasn’t been getting much press, but I think it could be the most pivotal of the series. This is definitely a young gun versus experience veteran type of match-up as Rondo is much more athletic than Fischer, but is more prone to making silly mistakes. Along with experience, Fischer has a big edge on Rondo in terms of shooting. With all the helpside defense that Kobe demands, Fischer will likely get a lot of shots. Advantage: Fischer. This match-up is closer than you might think because of Rondo’s athleticism and his surprising maturity. Unfortunately for Boston, Rondo is too inconsistent to give Boston the advantage at PG, but if he plays well he should be able to equal Fischer.
Shooting Guard: Ray Allen vs. Kobe Bryant. Somehow this turned into a rivalry soon after Shaq left LA and Ray Allen told the media that Kobe would go to to Mitch Kupchak in a few years and demand a trade (a few years later. . .). Later, Kobe said that he and Jesus Shuttlesworth shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence. Now, the two All-Stars are saying that there never really was a feud. Why do I bring this up? Well because even though these two play the same position, I can’t see them guarding each other much. LA might put Kobe on Allen particularly if he goes into another one of his funks, but Kobe roams too much and that’s a very bad idea against Allen even if he hasn’t been performing up to his standard. As for Allen guarding Kobe, even Doc Rivers isn’t that dumb. Kobe will see a steady diet of James Posey and occasionally Paul Pierce although Ray Allen will probably play some matador defense against him early in the game as Kobe will probably defer to his teammates early as he notes “I can get off any time I want” (insert Colorado hotel room joke here). Advantage: Kobe. This one isn’t even close. Allen has sort of become a wild card for the Celtics. Even when he’s on this position goes to Kobe and the Lakers, but if Allen can hit from the outside he can keep Boston in the series.
Small Forward: Paul Pierce vs. Vladimir Radmanovic. This might be the biggest mismatch of the series (not including the coaches). If they match up head-to-head, Pierce will dominate Vlad. As Shaq once said, “My name is Shaquille O’Neal and Paul Pierce is the motherfucking truth. Quote me on that and don’t take nothing out. I knew he could play, but I didn’t know he could play like this. Paul Pierce is the truth.” An Inglewood native, Pierce grew up idolizing Magic and the Showtime Lakers, but during his time in green, he has torched the Lakers for a career average of 27.9 PPG (his most against any team). My guess is that Kobe will be guarding Pierce in crunchtime. The rest of the time Vlad will try to stay in front of him. The key for LA is for Vlad to hit his 3s, which usually energizes the Hollywood crowd (if it’s after the 6 minute mark in the 2nd quarter when the crowd shows up) and will make Pierce or whoever is guarding him work. Advantage: Pierce. Big edge although this might turn into a Kobe vs. Pierce match-up, which Kobe would still win.
Power Forward: Kevin Garnett vs. Lamar Odom. This is the most interesting match-up of the series. Although Pierce is Boston’s go-to guy, KG is the heart-and-soul of the team. Usually he is able to dominate at the 4 because he is much more versatile than the opposing player. However, Odom’s unique skill set could theoretically pose a problem for KG especially with the amount of help defense he will have to play with Kobe and Gasol. Odom has the type of game that could limit KG’s ability to roam, but Odom is so inconsistent that it may not matter. Advantage: Garnett. If you look at the match-up on paper based on skills, it would be pretty close other than defense, which Odom doesn’t seem to care about most of the time. However, KG’s consistency and effort wins out over Odom’s tendency to space out (insert bong joke here).
Center: Kendrick Perkins vs. Pau Gasol. The Boston fans will really hate Chris Wallace by the time this series is over. Not only did he kill a few years of Paul Pierce’s prime by trading Joe Johnson for Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk (some blame falls on Paul Gaston, the Celtics owner at the time, who refused to resign either player), but he also gave the Lakers Gasol, who poses a tough match-up for Perkins. One of the 3 straight-to-pro starters this series (you probably know the other two) Perkins has grown a lot this year. Playing alongside KG has certainly helped during games, but perhaps more importantly off the court in practice and it shows in his improved performance. Unfortunately for Kendrick, Gasol is basically the worst match-up he could have. While Perkins is a hard-nosed defender with good strength, he isn’t particularly agile and the Lakers pick-and-roll with Kobe and Gasol could give Celtics fans nightmares over the next 2 weeks. Gasol will probably dominate this match-up unless Perkins can somehow turn this into a physical match-up. To limit the Lakers advantage, Perkins will have to try and dominate the glass as the Lakers don’t really have a great rebounder (Gasol can put up numbers, but isn’t going to get physical) while the Celtics have two (Perkins and Garnett). Advantage: Gasol. The Lakers have a clear advantage here as Gasol is one of the best centers in the league, but it’s closer than most people think. Perkins has had some big games in the playoffs and will need to do so in this series if the Celtics are to win #17.
Bench: James Posey, P.J. Brown, Eddie House, Leon Powe, Glen Davis, Tony Allen, & Sam Cassell vs. Luke Walton, Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmer, Ronny Turiaf, & Trevor Ariza. The Celtics will probably use Posey quite a bit on Kobe and Brown on Gasol as neither of the Celtic starters appear to match up particularly well. If Posey can focus on staying in front of Kobe and knock down 3s on kickouts, he could become an important facto in the series. Outside of Posey, Brown and House are the most likely to play key roles in this series. Brown primarily for his interior presence against Gasol and House to spot up for 3s assuming Doc notices Cassell couldn’t cut it in a YMCA league. Powe and Big Baby could also contribute in spots, but I have a feeling that Doc will yank around their minutes too much to give either a chance to contribute for more than a game or two. If Doc is smart, Allen and Cassell won’t take off their warm-ups as neither of them has contributed much this season. Meanwhile, the Lakers have a very strong bench. I’m pretty sure Walton would start on most teams in the league. He’s one of the rare players who can come into the game and make an immediate impact, which I attribute to Luke being one of the few players in the NBA who plays with his head instead of his body. Vujacic and Farmer have also proven to be valuable and will spell Fischer when Rondo starts to wear him out. Both of them can hit 3s, which will make them valuable when Kobe decides to drive. As for Turiaf, he’s not a great player, but he’s the only legit thing the Lakers have as a 4/5 backup. Advantage: Lakers. This may be the difference in the series even if Doc doesn’t screw up the rotations like he usually does.
Coaching: Phil Jackson vs. Doc Rivers. The Zen Master with 9 rings as a coach (tied with Red Auerbach) and 11 rings overall (tied with Bill Russell) versus the least stable rotation in basketball history. Advantage: Jackson. This is probably the biggest mismatch in Finals history. Even Ubuntu can’t save Doc in this one and it might cost the Celtics a shot at the title.
Prediction: Lakers in 6. If the Celtics play to their potential (that means you Ray), I think they can win, but he’s just been so inconsistent and the Lakers have been so dominant (in a better conference) that I just can’t pick them to win as much as it kills me if you haven’t caught my bias in the preview. I think LA and Boston will split the opening 2 games and Boston will come back to win 1 of 3 in LA before Kobe takes over in Game 6 and puts the Celtics away.